Friday, December 31, 2010

Dark Days Challenge: Week 3 and 4

Well, Week 3 was a wash-out. We were the lucky recipients of a number of festive invitations and were eating totally non-local goodies like shrimp, smoked oysters, scallops wrapped in bacon, French Brie and other such decadent holiday treats. The night we were home we were too tired to cook and ordered Chinese.

Now, we do eat local for breakfast quite regularly. With our own fresh eggs and home grown bacon, it's easy. We're also fortunate to be in grain country and have local, organic oats and spelt for porridge, local flour for our pancakes and homemade bread (but where does baking powder and vital gluten come from?). It's such a regular part of our life that we frequently forget to take pictures!

In Week 4, we've been home a bit more. Farmer Man stocked up from the root cellar and we had a few meals made from similar ingredients. You know, once you cut into a winter squash you've got to use it up! So, 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin appears two nights in a row. And our meals revolve around pork, of course, 'cause our freezer is full of home grown Berkshire pork!

First up: roasted pork chops with steamed homegrown 'German Butterball' potatoes and carrots, and slices of roasted 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin topped with cheese when they came out of the oven. The 'German Butterball' potatoes are quickly becoming one of our favorite potatoes due to it's fabulous flavor and nice texture. We always steam way to many potatoes so that the next morning we've got some leftovers for hash browns with our bacon and eggs! The next night, a slow cooker stew of pork butt steaks, potatoes, carrots, pumpkins and home grown onions. A nice, easy meal for a quiet day before New Year's Eve! The butt steaks are marvelous in the slow cooker - they just fall apart into tender chunks on serving! The 'Sugar Pie' pumpkin got a bit mushy in the slow cooker but was tasty nonetheless. The onions left in the root cellar are all small sizes, so they're perfect for using whole in something like a stew. It's good to be getting back into a routine of home cooking!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Chores and Sports!

First, Farmer Man works! After pushing a huge pile of snow off the roof, he had to dig out the office window which ended up under the pile. Then, Farmer Man gets to play! Our friends Joe and Calla brought out their quad, Farmer Man dusted off his old quad and some snowy racing ensued! All on a beautiful, late December day!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Peace and Joy!

Who ever you may be...
Where ever you may be...
What ever you may be celebrating...

Peace and Joy to You and Yours!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Coop Edition

Ok, it's not all that extreme, but I got your attention, didn't I? A wee reference to one of my fav TV shows. The Christmas tree lot is finished and Farmer Man has a bit more time, so a rather over-due cleaning and tidying of the chicken coop has been accomplished. He's trying something new: we've been using all wood shavings and we've gone to wood shavings under the roosts and straw in the rest. Straw in the laying boxes, too. The clean-up, and the addition of straw made it smell so clean and sweet! The chickens love scratching through the straw, although the first problem presenting itself seems to be that they are scratching straw right into the waterers and clogging things up! We'll have to raise them up a bit more. Next on Farmer Man's list: he's taking out the roosts made of willow branches from our shelterbelt and replacing them with some wooden ladders such as he has seen in Backyard Poultry Magazine (our fav chicken magazine). I got out shopping (I think that's my official job here) and found a great high-sided kitty litter box! Got a bag of potting soil without fertilizer or water retaining gel and voila - chicken bath! Peat moss, as recommended by Cynthia in a previous post, was harder to find than I might have imagined. I've been hanging around with the video camera a bit, but the girls are too shy to bath in front of me, it seems. Farmer Man also spread a little straw around the coop door, and some of The Hens ventured out for a while today; it was a balmy minus 12 Celsius, so a rather nice day!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thinking Spring!

This week our mail box has been full of not presents and holiday cards but seed catalogues! For us, it's rather like receiving presents, except they'll cost us money! We love getting the new catalogues, although we're a little busy to deal with them now. After Christmas, we'll curl up by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate and make our plans for the coming Spring. A few of our favorites are here already: Johnny's Selected Seeds, who are really geared for the market gardener, with lots of organic selections. West Coast Seeds, with lots of organics and heirlooms, but we've got to be careful with our selections because they are rather focused on the cooler, moister climate of the West Coast. Veseys Seeds is here, a Canadian company with lots of selections and breeding for commercial growers - some great tools and growing aids as well (really craving some of their 'Snap & Grow' greenhouses!). We've also got Stokes, William Dam and T & T, a Winnipeg company with lots of great selections for short season gardeners. Still missing in action are Heritage Harvest Seeds, a great little Manitoba company preserving heirloom varieties. Prairie Garden Seeds, a Saskatchewan company also preserving heirloom seeds and looking for interesting stuff including grains. We got a lot of our basic seed from Brandon's own Lindenberg Seeds, who have really improved their selection of organic seed in the last few years. And we always look forward to Terra Edibles, with the most amazing lists of heirloom tomatoes and beans!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winter Interest in the Snowy Garden

It's always worthwhile to consider some winter interest in your garden - regardless of where you live. Here in Manitoba, we've got to count on a bunch of snow covering everything, so things with height are important. Evergreens are major, providing more substance than just naked branches. We're fortunate here to be surrounded by well-established spruce and some pines. I've added some dwarf Mugo Pine and upright juniper in the border in front of the house and along the driveway. There's are a few other things providing pleasure now. Sedum 'Autumn Joy' (Sedum), a joy in sooo many seasons! Red-twigged dogwood (Cornus), looking good against the brick wall around the front patio. The flower heads of coneflower (Echinacea), which little birdies are still visiting for a snack. And some of our favorite winter interest: local wildlife! This visit from a partridge, commonly called Prairie chicken around here, was rare, unexpected and fortunately happened while the camera was handy! They rarely come so close to the house and usually fly away at the least sound or movement.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dark Days Challenge: Week 2

So, it was a roast-o-rama at Aagaard Farms for our second meal in the annual eating local challenge, The Dark Days Challenge. Our homegrown pork chops glazed in a homemade strawberry-fresh rosemary-balsamic vinegar jam, Linzer Delicatese fingerling potatoes and Hubbard squash from our garden, both topped with rosemary and sage cut fresh in our sunroom. All roasted in the oven.

Now, I know balsamic vinegar is from far, far away, as was the sugar in the jam recipe, but the strawberries and rosemary were local, and I made the jam - so I decided it was could be used for our Dark Days meal. It was very good as a glaze on pork; we've already used it with Camembert cheese and crackers and it was very good for that, too! It's recipe is from the blog Notes From a Country Girl Living in the City. I came across it through the Can Jam. Now, if you are even slightly interested in canning, whether a newbie looking for tips or an experienced canner looking for new things, you've got to get to know the Tigress! Tigress in a Jam and Tigress in a Pickle are her two blogs: everything canning! The Can Jam is kind of like her Dark Days Challenge; canners/bloggers sign up and then are told the feature ingredient each month and can away! Some awesome recipes and techniques are posted, and the Tigress has links on her blogs to all the postings. This jam was the first time I've made a cooked jam - no pectin, just slow cooking until it's thick enough. I did cook it a little long and it's a bit thick and heavy, Country Girl warned that it could become like taffy if cooked too long!

Anyway, back to our meal. We just coated the Berkshire pork in the jam, and placed in a casserole. We peeled and cubed the fingerling potatoes and the Hubbard squash. Had to stop Farmer Man's hand when he reached for the virgin olive oil and hand him the canola oil, instead! Topped both the veggies with fresh cut, chopped rosemary and sage. No salt, no pepper. Half way through cooking, we pulled out the chops and turned them over, basting them in the juices and jam. Fingerling potatoes roast so well and we both love them with those little bits of brown, crispy edges! Very tasty - and something new for us!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Farmer Man Is A Big Softie!

Farmer Man has given me a bit of hassle about caring for the little wild kitties. He wonders what I'm going to do with them, how much our feed bill is going up and practical stuff like that. He shook his head when the little kitties started showing up in the garage, where Loud Cat already lived. The wild cats must have been following me back to the house, or following my trail and they've decided that the garage is better than the drafty old straw bale chicken coop. Loud Cat seems to have no problem with that, so they've all been hanging out in the rafters together. Makes feeding them soooo much easier. Farmer Man decided, with some really cold weather forecast, that we needed to replace the second, little heat lamp in the chicken coop. I thought the arrangement had worked well last year, but sure - a better heat lamp is always, well, better. Much to my surprise, the second little heater quickly re-appeared - as a warmer bed for the little kittens! Farmer Man has a bigger heart than he likes to let on! And just in time: we woke up yesterday to a morning temperature of minus 32 Celsius, which is about minus 32 Fahrenheit, too. Freak deaky cold; but we had the confidence that everybody in our little domain was warm and cozy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chicken Chores in Frigid Weather

Yes, that is a chicken waterer in my bathtub. Keeping chickens gets interesting once the temperature falls (and stays) well below freezing. We have no outdoor running water once freeze-up comes. I think for Christmas Farmer Man has asked for one of those water hoses that never freeze - we'll see...... In the meantime, cleaning and refilling goes on in the bathroom. I worry some about contamination, so we don't run the risk of bringing items from the coop, except eggs, into the kitchen. We're careful about clean-up, try not to set down the grungy waterers any where except in the foyer and we wash up well afterwards. We even try not to set down the egg basket in the coop! We think our chickens are pretty healthy, but lets get real: they poop on the floor, then walk through it, then clamber at the edge of a waterer or even get up on top of the waterer and then poop. It's not big or smelly or anything but it can still carry contaminants, so we can't be too careful.

Another winter chore that I have to get organized is bathing facilities for The Hens. I noticed yesterday that one of the girls was trying to have a bath in the wood shavings on the floor of the coop and it wasn't going that well. Chickens like to have dust baths, they 'throw' dust up through their feathers with their wings and feet. Last year I put a large kitty litter box of potting soil into the coop, and I've got to get that organized again. Thing is, that kitty litter box is in use with the little wild kitties so I've got to find or buy another container. With Christmas coming, I'm sure The Hens just want to look beautiful!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dark Days Challenge: Week 1

With Farmer Man working long hours and every day at the Christmas Tree Lot, we're not sitting down together for a lot of meals. But, we knew he'd get off early yesterday, so we planned our first Dark Days meal. We did good, too! Roasted organic lamb chops from our friends Duane and Shelley at Logan Farms in Nesbitt, Manitoba. Some of the nicest lamb we've every had, just yummy. A trip to our own root cellar yielded a spaghetti squash and some lovely 'Blue Mac' potatoes from our garden. 'Blue Mac' potatoes have a purple/blue skin that cooks up pale beige. It's kind of in between the smoothness of a red potato and the fluffiness of a white potato. We cooked up extra for some nice hash browns one of these mornings. The storage drawer in the fridge has some of our own garden carrots and some fresh rosemary came from the little bush in sun room. We roasted the squash and the lamb in the oven, steamed the potatoes and carrots. Simple but good!

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Festive Farmer

What does a Farmer do when there's a foot of snow, no Farmers' Markets and just a few sales off the farm? When he still wants to download new jazz from iTunes? He sells Christmas trees! This is the sixth year that Farmer Man has worked the Christmas Tree Lot at Dairy Queen for Stream n' Wood. He's getting really, really good at it! I worked the busy weekend with him and he has lots of return customers that say he always picks out the perfect tree for them. He can just tell....even when the tree is still in the wrap. Since he started at the end of November, the weather has been not bad: only a couple of super cold, windy days. And it's not a bad gig; there are worse things than selling Christmas trees to excited families!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Feline Feeding Frenzy...

Are you ready? Ready for dinner? You betcha! The little wild cats are getting used to the routine. They're getting a bit more comfortable with me, and don't run away when I arrive. With the weather very chilly, I think they're now spending most of their time in the old straw bale chicken coop, although three of the seven have shown up in the garage - just exploring, I guess. I climb right into the coop to feed them, spreading the food out in five or six different piles to avoid competition and fights. They've come to appreciate fresh water, and just in the last week or so most of them go for a drink right away. The water, of course, freezes solid before the next time I'm in there, but they're drinking a good half of the container before it freezes.

Night time temperatures are already getting down to -20 C (-8 F or so), so I was a little worried about them at night. To give them a more cozy space, I put in some boxes with an entry door on two sides, straw inside on the bottom and piled them with straw on top. I don't know how much they are using them, but they are using them because a couple of the smallest are coming out of the boxes when I arrive with dinner. I've been looking everywhere for some sort of solar-powered solution for water, but there's just nothing that will keep up to our cold temperatures. We're just too far from power to do anything electric. Might be dangerous, too in a straw bale house. So far, the little cats seem to be faring quite well!